Fantastic Five

Three months into the season, the number of freshmen playing beyond their years in college basketball is far from one-and-done. Besides Wall, here are five players who have excelled during their first—and potentially penultimate—semester
January 11, 2010

Xavier Henry, Kansas

If the award for the country's top player should go to the best player on the best team, then No. 1 Kansas's 6'6" wing should be seen as a front-runner. Henry, widely considered a top 10 recruit coming out of Putnam City (Okla.) High, leads the 13--0 Jayhawks in scoring at 16.3 points per game—his season low is eight points—while shooting an impressive 51.8% from the field (including 46.0% from three-point range). Henry also has deep roots in Lawrence: His parents played for the Jayhawks in the 1980s.

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech

If NBA scouts are to be believed, Favors, Georgia Tech's 6'10" forward, has combined with 6'9" junior Gani Lawal to form one of the most talented frontcourts in the country. Representatives of 26 pro teams went to watch the Yellow Jackets' game against Florida State on Dec. 20. The biggest reason? Favors, whom projects as the second pick in the 2010 draft. The 18-year-old with a wingspan in excess of nine feet is averaging 12.4 points (on 59.8% shooting), 8.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky

You don't need to tell the 6'11" Cousins about casting long shadows. But thanks to Wall, his friend and classmate, the Kentucky forward finds himself in relative obscurity in Lexington. No matter. Despite playing a meager 19.2 minutes a game, Cousins has racked up 15.4 points and 9.6 boards while dominating on the offensive boards (grabbing 26.7% of the Wildcats' total). The energetic Cousins—who's nicknamed Big Cuz and Dancing Bear, among other sobriquets—says his main goal now is just "to stay relaxed."

Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati

Before he even set foot in Cincinnati, New York City basketball prodigy Stephenson had starred in a documentary, Gunnin' for That #1 Spot, and graced the cover of Dime magazine, which proclaimed, THIS 17-YEAR-OLD WOULD BE AN NBA STAR RIGHT NOW. In sum: the 6'5" freshman guard has an outsized ego (he talked trash to opposing coach Chris Mack during the Bearcats' loss at Xavier) and nerves of steel. (He was fouled with less than a second left and made both free throws in a breakthrough 71--69 win over No. 10 Connecticut on Dec. 30.)

Avery Bradley, Texas

On a team as deep as No. 2 Texas, merely cracking the lineup might seem an accomplishment for a freshman. But 6'2" guard Bradley (10.6 ppg)—and fellow freshmen J'Covan Brown (11.7) and Jordan Hamilton (9.9)—are the ones providing much of that depth in the first place. Bradley is both a vaunted perimeter defender and a mid-range weapon, sinking 46.1% of his two-pointers (but only 34.2% from three). Best of all? "He's just getting started," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "He's not even near what he can be."